“From little things, big things grow.”
A sermon on Luke 2: 1-20 by Nathan Nettleton, 25 December 1998
© LaughingBird.net

In the birth of the baby we see the presence of God in smallness and obscurity, enabling us to see that small beginnings are no obstacle to big visions of the reign of justice and peace and freedom.


“From little things, big things grow. From little things, big things grow.” Paul Kelly’s song is not a Christmas carol, but if you just started with the chorus you could probably write a good carol from it. Like the Christmas carols it’s a song about the birth of something, the birth of a movement. The birth of something that seems too insignificant to ever amount to anything, but which kept on growing and now everyone knows about it and a great many are directly affected by it.

Paul Kelly’s song commemorates the birth of the Aboriginal Land rights movement, born in 1966 when the Gurindji people at Wave Hill Station refused to keep working the cattle run and began a fight which nine years later saw Gough Whitlam hand them the lease to 3200 square kilometres. Their walk off was in the year Aboriginal people were first recognised as citizens under the Australian Constitution, and protest by a few dozen kooris deep in the outback didn’t seem to have much chance of capturing the attention of the wider community. But a few years ago I was at a concert at the Melbourne Concert Hall to see Archie Roach followed by Yothu Yindi. And at the end of his set Archie Roach said something that’s stuck in my mind. He said he never thought he’d see the day when two Aboriginal acts could headline at the Melbourne Concert hall and pack the place out. “From little things, big things grow. From little things, big things grow.”

Well if the walk off by the Gurindji seemed insignificant and unlikely to amount to anything, how much more so the birth of a baby in a shed behind a pub 2000 years ago. Of course it was very significant to Mary and Joseph and perhaps to a few others. The birth of a baby is a major life changing event to those close to it, but any particular birth only looks significant if you look at it in the limited context of an immediate family or a small community. I mean think about it for a moment in a bigger context. There will probably be well over 250,000 babies born in the world today, but how many of you know someone who is likely to have a baby today? That’s enough babies being born to replace the entire population of Melbourne during the twelve days of Christmas, but most of us of us don’t know a single one of them.

Acacia’s birth back in May had a major impact on my life, but if I stand back and ask what significance her birth had beyond my little world it’s a very different picture. She’s just one of about 90 million babies born this year on one medium sized planet orbiting a star in a relatively small galaxy in one tiny corner of the known universe. Perhaps three or four hundred people out of the 6 billion on earth are even aware of her existence, let alone significantly affected by it.

So when Jesus was born about 2000 years ago, in circumstances even less auspicious than most, there was no particular reason to see that as a significant event for more than a handful of people. Although there were no where near 90 million babies born that year, it was still just one birth among many in a shed in a small town in a troubled province on the outer edges of the Roman Empire. Most of the people alive on the planet at that time hadn’t even heard of the Roman Empire, let alone Israel or Bethlehem or Joe Davidson the carpenter and his new wife Mary.

But here we gather, 2000 years later, united in purpose with about a quarter of the world’s population to remember and celebrate again the story of that one birth. The story we heard read a few moments ago. A story that most of us probably know better than the stories of our own births. “From little things, big things grow. From little things, big things grow.”

The reign of God is like a mustard seed, said Jesus, it starts out as the tiniest of seeds and just keeps growing. Well, just as well, because looked at in the context of the whole of world history, a mustard seed looks quite big next to the birth of one baby in a shed behind a nameless pub in a two bit town. But “from little things, big things grow. From little things, big things grow.”

Most of us find ourselves frequently feeling that we are too small and insignificant to make any real difference to anything that matters. Particularly when we contemplate what’s going on on the wider world stage and wonder if anything can be done. Iraqi terrorism against the Kurds. American terrorism against the Iraqis. Australian terrorism against the environment. Even the terrorising and abusive behaviour that will take place across the Christmas table in far too many Australian families this afternoon. We find ourselves feeling that nothing we could do could make a difference. Nothing we can do could change anything for the better. We’re not significant enough to do anything significant about anything. Well, as someone whose name eludes me once said, “If you think you’re too small to make a difference, you’ve never been in bed with a mosquito!” And I reckon if you think you’re too small to make a difference you need to contemplate again the story we’re here to celebrate today. “From little things, big things grow. From little things, big things grow.”

It would be easy for us as a church here to feel that we’re too small and lacking in resources to achieve anything of value. Especially now after a year in which we’ve lost quite a few people and gained only two or three and almost run out of money. It would be easy for us to say we don’t have enough to do anything worthwhile and just give up hope. It would have been easy for Mary and Joseph, all alone far from home and with nowhere to stay, to give up hope and despair of even surviving the week let alone ever making a creative contribution to the world. But sheltered in a shed in Nowheresville, squatting in the straw with her thighs wrenched apart, Mary became the mother of God. Joseph became the trembling midwife whose hands drew God-made-flesh squirming and gasping into the world. Together they became the bearers of God into the world.

And you and I are called to nothing more and nothing less. We are called to be the ones who bear God into the world. The ones through whom God is born again and again. The ones in whom God takes flesh and in whom God’s reign begins to bear fruit. And if we’ve got nothing more than a shed and a couple of expectant people who are willing to say, “I’m the servant of the Lord, let be with me as you say” then we’ve got enough for the task ahead of us. “From little things, big things grow. From little things, big things grow.”

So here we are 2000 years later celebrating the growing impact that one small baby continues to have as more people in each new generation name him Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, and his reign of peace with justice and righteousness continues to grow from this time forward and forevermore. Were the beginnings any more significant than you or I? Were they any more significant than us gathered here this morning? If I hear the phrase “the true meaning of Christmas” one more time I’ll probably scream, but if you’re looking for it, perhaps that’s it. “From little things, big things grow. From little things, big things grow. From little things, big things grow. From little things, big things grow.”